The fight to bring sexual offenders to justice and resolution to their victims got some welcome news last week.
As we reported on Sunday, the Missouri attorney general's office has sent off its first batch of previously untested rape kits from the state's backlog for analysis, uploaded the DNA results into an FBI database and got its first "hits." The best news, at least for us, is that that batch of rape kits was from Southwest Missouri, which means that it's possible — maybe even likely? — that some of those came from the Joplin area.
There's no official word on that yet, but Joplin police tell us that 11 kits from this area were sent for testing in February. They're awaiting notification of whether any kits originated here, and if that proves to be the case, then Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and his office say they'll work with law enforcement and prosecutors to properly investigate the alleged crimes and potentially prosecute the offenders.
All of this is good news, given the heavy weight of the rape kit backlog. In Missouri, that backlog was determined after a review by the attorney general's office to be approximately 6,800 untested kits; nationwide, it's much greater.
Many reasons — including a lack of funding and sometimes a low prioritization of investigating sexual crimes — have been given for the existence of the backlog. But all of that is cold comfort to victims who subject themselves to the lengthy and invasive process of the forensic examination, only to watch their kit languish on a dusty shelf while the offender goes free.
We applaud those in Missouri who are taking this initiative seriously and making a good effort to clear the backlog.
In order to truly clear the backlog and prevent a future backlog, all stakeholders in this process — federal, state and local governments; law enforcement professionals; prosecutors; forensic analysts; victim advocates; survivors; and others — must work together to evaluate existing policies and processes and determine where improvement is needed, according to End The Backlog, an advocacy group founded by actress Mariska Hargitay.
Several key stakeholders in Missouri, namely the attorney general's office and the Joplin Police Department, have already stepped up to the table. Thank you for prioritizing the testing of previously untested rape kits.
But there is still much hard work to be done, from locating additional funding to prosecuting the offenders. We hope that the agencies involved in this massive undertaking remain committed to this goal.